I gravitated towards Grace Eiko Thompson’s book because I needed to learn more about Japanese Canadian experiences. I don’t recall more than a brief mention of Asian Canadian in my early education, aside from a few lines in a textbook about Asian workers arriving in Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. The photographs of the CPR’s “Last Spike” in 1885 are carefully posed: although some men in the photos appear to be railroad workers, they are all white. The Japanese and other non-white labourers are literally out of the picture. Similarly, Japanese internment and forced displacement during the 1940s was also glossed over in my education. I had to seek out this information as an adult by reading books like Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. Chiru Sakura fits nicely alongside Kogawa and other West Coast Asian Canadian authors like Paul Yee and SKY Lee, who offer important perspectives on their experiences, both past and present.
Thompson writes about her own experience of Japanese internment: her family was uprooted by the government, forced to leave most of their possessions and their home in Vancouver, and scrape together a living in barely inhabitable accommodations. They were forbidden from returning to their home after WWII, and no choice but to relocate to predominantly white small towns in rural Manitoba. Thompson was a child at this time, and in Chiru Sakura, she alternates between writing her own memories and transcribing her mother’s journal, which her mother wrote as she approached the end of her life. The book also features some truly incredible family photographs from Thompson’s personal collection.
The book is a chronological account of Thompson’s life, but it also reaches further into the past, detailing Canada’s long history of white supremacy, with particular attention to the nation’s turbulent relationship with immigrants from Asia (and also Canadian citizens with Asian heritage). The book is rich with facts that are heavily supported by Thompson’s personal experience and memories.
Thompson’s writing is similar to her mother’s tone in the journal excerpts: both women seem matter-of-fact and practical, and sometimes brush past some of the more emotional details of their lives. While Thompson remembers the hostility of Middlechurch, Manitoba (where her family was relocated after internment), she carefully alludes to racism, saying, “…most [people], I assume, received their information though the media—radio and newspapers that never reported about us kindly in those days” (76). As a reader, I sometimes longed for some more rumination on these events, or a little more insight into Thompson’s emotions as a young girl. The final handful of chapters reads like a summary of Thompson’s adult life, in which she pursues her education and builds a career as an artist, curator, and advocate for education and the preservation of Japanese Canadian history.
In writing a book that weaves together her mother’s story and her own, Thompson honours her mother’s life and reflects on her own experience, acknowledging her mortality and place in a still-growing family history. Ultimately, her book is a labour of love and an important resource for the archive of Japanese Canadian history, as Thompson continues to contribute to important projects highlighting the history and also new work by Japanese Canadians.
Grace Eiko Thomson is a second-generation Japanese Canadian, who, with her parents and siblings, lived in Paueru Gai (Powell Street, Downtown Eastside) in Vancouver until 1942 when they were sent to the internment site of Minto Mines, BC, then in 1945 to rural Manitoba. After restrictions were lifted, they re-settled in the City of Winnipeg (1950). She was President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians in 2008 and served on the National Executive Board from 2005 to 2010. She is a mother to two sons and grandmother to five grandchildren and currently participates in various Downtown Eastside activities and issues in Vancouver, BC.
- Publisher : Caitlin Press (March 19 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1773860410
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773860411
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